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The American Horror Story: Asylum Couple You Never Knew Was Based On Real People

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's anthology series American Horror Story has been delivering grotesque scares for nine seasons. From haunted manors to the slaughter of camp counselors in the 1980s, each season has explored the myths and tropes that permeate, well, American horror stories. And as with most good tales, there is often a kernel of truth buried in the midst of all the madness.

While the show's first season (and worst, depending on who you ask), Murder House, was very open about its supernatural elements, the second, the 1960s set Asylum, relied much more on a subtle sense of the uncanny. Between the unspeakably cruel treatment of those who were locked away in Briarcliff Manor to the sadistic crimes of the Bloody Face killer, the sophomore season found plenty to fear in the natural world.

That's part of why the season's more outlandish elements were a bit controversial with fans when the season first aired. As noted in an Entertainment Weekly interview from 2013, not everyone loved the storyline that saw central couple Kit (Evan Peters) and Alma (Britne Oldford) experiencing an intense series of encounters with extraterrestrials.

However, as executive producer Tim Minear noted, stories of alien abduction are a classic trope of American horror mythology. And furthermore, the characters of Kit and Alma were partially inspired by a real-life couple and their harrowing close encounter.

The story of Betty and Barney Hill

While speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Minear revealed a point of reference for the story of Kit and Alma: "The Betty and Barney Hill story of the fifties, sixties, was one of the first abduction stories."

Like Kitt and Alma on American Horror Story, Betty and Barney Hill were an interracial couple living in mid-20th century New England. They lived relatively normal lives until a strange night in 1961 turned their world upside down. While making a late-night drive home following a vacation, the couple reported seeing a strange light following them in the sky. They claimed that after seeing the light, they lost hours of time. 

Strange dreams followed the events of that night, and eventually the Hills sought out the help of a hypnotist. It was under hypnosis that they were able to put to words what they believe happened during their lost time incident. The couple claimed that the strange lights following them that night were those of an alien spaceship, which descended on the couple and brought them aboard, where they were experimented on (via History).

The Hills' story wasn't the first account of alien sightings, but it was the first time someone publicly claimed to be taken by extraterrestrials. According to Quartz, this helped establish the phenomenon we now know as alien abduction, and all the tropes that come with it.

Many of those tropes were explored through the characters of Kit and Alma on Asylum, even though their story ended up being quite different from the Hills'.

How Kit and Alma differ from their real-life inspiration

If you've watched Asylum, you may already recognize that the story of the Hills really only has some broad elements in common with Kit and Alma's trial. Even Minear in his Entertainment Weekly interview noted, "we weren't taking from that specifically, but it was in the water, in our experience, the stories that we all knew."

Unlike the Hills, Kit and Alma were at their home when they were contacted by aliens, not out driving, and their encounter ends with Alma being taken indefinitely. The aliens also plant a chip in Kit during the encounter, and return several more times to intervene in his life. They even bring Alma back at one point and ensure that Grace (Lizzie Brocheré), an inmate at the Briarcliff Asylum who Kit has an affair with, carries his child to term. All of those details were invented for the show.

All in all, Kit and Alma's narrative is only loosely based on the story of the Hills. But the series did focus on one important aspect. These days, stories of alien abductions are often synonymous with fringe conspiracy theories and typically discounted by default. However, when the Hills first recounted their alleged abduction, it would have raised a lot of questions about faith in higher powers. As Minear saw it, "If you think about it, those aliens are the closest things to angels, on our show about sort of religion versus science."

Even though they changed many of the details, it's clear that American Horror Story: Asylum found a lot of inspiration in the story of the first alleged alien abduction.